His biggest problem was…nobody would leave.
Percival stood in the kitchen doorway and gazed helplessly over his guests. Morgana and Gwen curled up in the corner of his couch, sharing earbuds as they watched some foreign film on his laptop, Merlin and Arthur bickered over who had shot who in Call of Duty while Elena and Elyan kept snickering in the background, and Gwaine watched in merriment as Leon tried to convince Gizmo, Percival’s pug, that it was worth his while to fight for the rope toy Leon kept shaking in his face. The idea had seemed like such a good one when he’d thought of it. Invite everybody over, then get Gwaine to himself once everybody left since Gwaine was always the last one to leave any get-together the gang had. He had his speech memorized, Gwaine’s favorite food in the fridge, and enough alcohol on hand to keep Gwaine around as long as necessary if Percival lost his nerve once they were alone.
Except for the fact that Arthur had commented that it’d been too long since everyone had spent an evening together, prompting declarations they should make it last as long as possible, Percival would’ve called it the perfect plan.
A burst of excited shouts came from the four playing on the Xbox, drowning out the barrage of gunfire that immediately preceded it. Heads turned to see what was going on, and Gizmo took Leon’s momentary distraction to bolt through his legs, down the hall, and into Percival’s bedroom.
Gwaine laughed at Leon’s consternation. Rising from the chair where he’d been lounging, he clapped Leon on the back. “Sooner or later, you’ll find somebody who sticks around long enough to play with, mate.”
When Gwaine began making his way toward the kitchen, Percival retreated out of sight. His pulse accelerated as he scanned the room for something to do so he’d look busy when Gwaine walked in. At the very last second, he yanked open the fridge door and peered inside, as if debating its contents.
“I love that damn dog of yours,” Gwaine commented. He sauntered over to lean against the counter next to the refrigerator, his legs stretched out in front of him. “Guaranteed hours of entertainment.”
Gwaine’s pose put his groin on display, the well-worn denim faded white in the cracks along his slim hips, and Percival had to bite his tongue to keep from dropping to his knees, opening Gwaine’s fly, and sucking him off with everyone else in the next room. Not that he’d ever known Gwaine to turn down sex, but Percival had spent the last two years of their friendship being his wingman rather than bed partner. The move was too blatant and pushy, even if Percival had the nerve to actually follow through on it. Hell, he hadn’t even found the courage to tell Gwaine he wanted more than being his friend yet. He couldn’t grab the man’s cock, no matter how many times he’d jerked off thinking about it.
“Only because Leon hasn’t figured out Gizmo hasn’t touched that toy since you made him fetch it to get that guy’s attention at the park last summer.”
Gwaine affected a mock shudder. “Don’t remind me. Blow job mouths are never worth the stalkers that sometimes come attached to them.”
Percival held back from commenting. Gwaine thought anyone who wanted a second date with him—which was a high enough number to rouse every possessive instinct Percival had—was a stalker. His free spirit was half of what Percival loved most about him. He looked at life as an adventure to be experienced, not the order to be overcome that Percival faced. That same spirit, however, was a big part of the reason it’d taken so long for him to work up the nerve to approach Gwaine about moving their relationship to another level. The last thing he wanted was to lose his best friend, but he’d finally reached the point where seeing Gwaine with anyone else hurt more than living with his fear.
Grabbing a beer he really didn’t want, he finally shut the refrigerator and retreated to the opposite counter, mirroring Gwaine’s posture. “Whatever happened to that guy anyway?”
Gwaine shrugged. “Who knows?” Typical response. So was the forthcoming tilt of his head. “Why’re you hiding in here? You should be showing Arthur how it’s done so we don’t have to listen to him brag about beating Merlin for the next six months.”
“Just tired, I guess.” He tried to smile but knew it was weak. “My aim would be for shit, and then we’d have to listen to Arthur go on about beating me, too.”
Gwaine startled him by straightening and heading back to the living room. Then, he startled the rest of the group with a shrill, two-finger whistle.
“Time to wrap it up, boys and girls,” he announced. “The hour’s late, and it’s going to take our gracious host too long to clean up after you lot as it is.”
Gwen tugged the earbud out as she glanced at her watch. “Whoa, it is late. I’m going to be a zombie at work in the morning.”
Percival stood in disbelief as the others chimed in agreement, though Merlin had to box Arthur around the ear when he complained about wanting to finish their campaign. One by one, they filed out, their goodbyes drifting over their shoulders, until only Gwaine and Percival remained.
“What did you do?” Percival said.
Gwaine scooped up the half-empty bottles from the coffee table. “You said you were knackered.”
Percival trailed after him, feeling like Gizmo at dinnertime as Gwaine dumped the beer in the sink. “Since when does that matter?”
“Since you obviously weren’t enjoying yourself anyway.”
Gwaine’s perception always caught him at the oddest times. He knew Gwaine was sharp. He had a way of seeing through people to evaluate their true merit, dismissing those he considered not worth his time with barely a flip of his hair. Percival had always admired that ability, been jealous of it even, but once Gwaine accepted someone into his circle, he rarely turned that insight in his or her direction again. At least, not to their faces. Percival certainly wasn’t used to being noticed as more than his comrade in arms.
His silence drew Gwaine’s gaze away from his clean-up. Something flickered in his eyes before his brows drew together in worry. “You want me to go, say the word. I just thought I’d give you a hand so you weren’t stuck with all the work like what usually happens.”
The thoughtfulness of the gesture stuck in his throat, never mind the fact that if anyone ever did volunteer to help, it was always Gwaine. “I don’t want you to go.”
More truth came out in those words than he was sure Gwaine realized, but the concern disappeared from Gwaine’s face to bring back the brilliant grin that always made Percival’s stomach twist. “Now was that so hard?”
When he headed back to the front room to finish gathering the empties, Percival stopped him with a touch to his arm. He had to do this now before he lost his nerve, because every minute Gwaine bustled around his flat like he belonged there added another nightmare to his growing list of potential outcomes.
When Gwaine tipped his head to look up at him, Percival promptly forgot the speech he’d had memorized. He couldn’t stop staring at Gwaine’s mouth, the way his beard framed it so perfectly, teasing him with questions of what it would feel like scraping along his cock if Gwaine swallowed him down, against his lips if he dared to sweep down for a kiss. There were times when Percival lost hours simply watching Gwaine smile and laugh, but Percival’s quiet balanced Gwaine’s more boisterous energy. Yet another reason why they got along so well.
Gwaine’s “Yeah?” at his ongoing silence now dragged his wayward thoughts back on track, though his speech seemed to be on permanent vacation.
“What’re you doing Friday?” he blurted.
Gwaine’s mouth canted. “Same we do every Valentine’s. Seeing what fortunate soul we can pull.” According to Gwaine, Valentine’s was the best day to get lucky. Hundreds of singles, desperate for an ounce of affection. He considered it his personal responsibility to make it memorable for at least one lonely person. Percival was tired of it being anyone but him.
“What if we tried something different this year?”
He took a deep breath. “Like go out. Just the two of us.”
“But that’s what we’re doing.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Is this about last year? I told you. You don’t have to feel guilty just because—”
“A date,” he said in a rush. He did not want Gwaine to start going on about the boy Percival had picked up. A serious twink with the biggest blue eyes Percival had ever seen, hardly smiled, very intense. As different from Gwaine he could possibly manage. He’d called Percival a dozen times afterward, each one as hopeful as the last, all unanswered because Percival felt so bad about using him to not think about Gwaine, and Percival couldn’t even remember the guy’s name a year later. “That’s what I meant. A date. With you. And me. And food. And probably beer.”
The more he added to the list, the deeper Gwaine’s frown got. “Did Merlin put you up to this?”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because of that Will I spent last Valentine’s with. How was I supposed to know he was an old mate of Merlin’s? We didn’t exactly spend that much time talking.”
Oh, yeah, Percival knew all too well what he and that Will had done all night. Gwaine had been in a particularly good mood the following day because the kid he’d hoped to corrupt had been kinkier than he was.
“This has nothing to do with last year,” Percival said. “This has to do with you and me spending Valentine’s together, just like any other couple. I don’t want you picking up some stranger at the pub. I want it to be me.”
Seconds ticked by where Gwaine did nothing but stare at him. It was nothing like the speech he’d planned. That had begun with reminiscing about how they’d met, how Gwaine had hit on Percival and Percival had turned him down. Then he would’ve segued into all the reasons they were so good together, how well they got on, how they could make each other laugh, how they were always there for each other. In a perfect world, it ended with Percival pinning Gwaine to the counter and kissing him for the first time, after which Gwaine would smile and say, “Who better to spend Valentine’s with?”
The world he actually inhabited, however, was far from perfect. In this one, Gwaine broke the silence by snorting and shaking his head.
“You have clearly had too much to drink tonight, mate.” He gestured toward the sink. “Forget this mess and pack it in. You need to sleep this off because your jokes are falling flatter than your feet.”
As much as he’d been a nervous wreck before, Percival would trade the nausea and the ache in his chest he had now to get that back in a heartbeat. Of all the possible outcomes, Gwaine thinking the whole thing was a joke was the last one he would’ve guessed.
“Sleep sounds good. Let yourself out, will you?” Turning, Percival did something he never would’ve imagined he could do. He walked away from Gwaine without looking back.
* * *
It might not have been his original plan, but Percival was more than happy to have it now.
Gizmo crowded around his ankles as he carried everything out to the living room. When Percival settled in the corner, Gizmo hopped up next to him, bracing his front paws on Percival’s thigh as he sniffed around the popcorn bowl.
“This is my dinner, not yours,” Percival complained, but that didn’t stop him from taking a small handful and holding them out for Gizmo. He smiled when Gizmo’s tongue raked across his palm in his eagerness to get every last piece. “At least we’ve got each other, buddy.”
A knock at the door prompted Gizmo to leap off and go running to answer it. With a sigh, Percival set aside the bowl to answer. He didn’t want to. He’d done everything he could to ignore the outside world for the past two days, including turning off his phone after getting tired of making excuses to Gwaine about not being able to talk. He’d even put off the rest of the gang, out of fear Gwaine might have mentioned the embarrassing incident. He just wanted to forget asking Gwaine out had ever happened.
Gizmo barked in excitement at the sight of Gwaine lounging against the jamb. Gwaine wasn’t dressed for his usual Valentine prowl. Instead of his traditional leather pants, he wore his favorite pair of faded jeans, with his beat-up bomber jacket thrown over a T-shirt rather than a button-down that would hint at the chest beneath.
“Someone’s not answering his phone,” Gwaine scolded.
When he tried to enter, however, Percival stepped sideways, keeping his hand on the door as he barred the entry. Behind him, Gizmo nipped at his ankles in a bid to get to Gwaine. Traitor. “What do you want?”
“To come in, for starters.”
“Don’t you have somewhere you need to be?”
Before Percival could protest more, Gwaine ducked beneath his arm, bending his body in a way only Gwaine could to get around him. By the time Percival closed the door, resigned to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to avoid this confrontation any longer, Gwaine had tossed his coat aside and occupied the same corner of the couch Percival had just vacated, heels propped up on the coffee table, Gizmo on his lap.
Gwaine scratched under Gizmo’s jowls, just like he did every other time he came over to see Percival. Like nothing was different. “What’s on the marquee tonight?”
He tore his gaze away from the obvious bliss on Gizmo’s face, ashamed that he was actually jealous of his dog. “This wasn’t how I planned on spending tonight.”
Gwaine’s smile faded. “No, because I buggered that up well and good, now didn’t I?”
It was so obviously a reference to the other night, Percival shifted uneasily. “We don’t have to—”
“Yeah, we do.” He cocked his head. “Mind sitting down? I feel like I’ve been sent to the headmaster’s without having done any of the fun stuff to actually get nicked for.” When Percival remained stock still, Gwaine sighed. “Fine. I’ll do this your way. Maybe then we can get past this and have the Valentine’s we were supposed to.”
His palms were sweaty. He shoved them into his pits to stop thinking about them, glad that crossing his arms over his chest made him feel a tad stronger.
“You remember how we met?” Gwaine asked.
He’d expected an apology, or what passed for an apology where Gwaine was concerned. The question knocked him off-kilter enough to answer honestly. “It’s not a night I’m likely to forget, if that’s you mean.”
Gwaine nodded. “Did Arthur ever tell you he lost the coin toss?”
“What coin toss?”
“That would be a no, then. See, we saw you come into the pub at the same time. We flipped a coin to see who got to be the lucky one to go buy you a drink.”
His heart twisted at the implication. That night, Percival had gone out with his friend Lance, nothing special except Percival had been crushing on Lance ever since their freshman year at uni when the pair met over Christmas break, hanging around town when everybody else was home for the holidays. They’d bonded over the lack of family, but unfortunately for Percival, Lance was as straight as they came. Percival had been sitting at the bar, watching Lance play darts with a pretty blonde, when Gwaine sauntered over and bought him another pint before Percival could stop him.
“Arthur never said anything.” Neither had Gwaine, though Percival thought that was more likely because they became such fast friends.
“I wonder all the time what would’ve happened if you hadn’t been so hung up on Lance,” Gwaine said. “We might not be in this mess right now, most likely.”
“We probably wouldn’t even be friends right now if I hadn’t turned you down,” Percival countered. “You never hook up with the same guy more than once.”
“Because I don’t want to risk getting emotionally involved.”
“The whole world already knows that.”
“Do you, though?” At Percival’s blank stare, Gwaine shook his head. “Think about it. If I started seeing someone more seriously, it’d mean spending more time with them. Time I wouldn’t get to spend with you. That was the last thing I ever wanted.”
“Because we’re friends.”
“You’re my best friend,” Gwaine corrected.
He thought he could see where Gwaine was finally going with this. It didn’t make him feel better about embarrassing himself, but at least he understood why Gwaine had turned him down. “And the last thing you want is to wreck that. Got it.”
“No, you don’t.” Pushing Gizmo gently off, Gwaine stood and came around the couch so they stood toe to toe. “Now, I’ll admit I was an idiot for not hearing what you were really saying when you wanted to make plans for tonight. But in my defense, in all the time we’ve known each other, you’ve never once hinted you wanted more from me than being friends. And that’s all right. I respected that. I didn’t like it, but I respected it.” He poked Percival in the chest. “Because that’s what I thought you wanted.”
Pointless to pretend any longer. Maybe being honest would get this entire ordeal over more quickly, like ripping off a plaster. “I’ve wanted more for a long time now.”
“I’ve always wanted more. Why do you think I introduced Lance to Gwen?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Because I figured you’d stop mooning after him if he was seeing someone. Which you did, remember.”
He’d always wondered about that. Gwaine had never shown any interest in introducing anyone else, before or after, though Percival had assumed Lance and Gwen’s bad break-up a couple years ago had soured him on matchmaking forever.
“So what are you saying?” Percival said.
“I’m saying, I’d written off any shot I had with you years ago. That’s why I’ve been kicking myself all week for misunderstanding what you meant. I wanted to make it up to you, but when you wouldn’t talk to me, I did the only thing I could. This isn’t what I had in mind for our first real date, but I’ll take whatever you’re willing to give. If I haven’t completely blown any chance I had by being so thick.”
As far as speeches went, it wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t well thought out. At the end of the day, it wasn’t even very eloquent.
But it was very, very Gwaine. The Gwaine few people got to see, the one Percival had come to know and fall in love with.
Something hard and wet fell on his bare foot. When he looked down, he found Gizmo sitting next to them, the rope toy he’d fetched without their notice now resting between their legs.
In spite of everything, Percival laughed. “That better not be because he recognized your speech.”
Gwaine scooped up both Gizmo and the toy. “No, it’s because your damn dog is smarter than both of us,” he said with affection. He slanted a surprisingly shy smile up at Percival. “So? What do you say?”
He took a deep breath. “I say…I’m still not in the mood to go out. But if you want to stay in, I’ve got Evil Dead, movie food, and beer.”
“Do I have you?”
He recognized the look in Gwaine’s eye. He saw it in his in pictures of him and Gwaine, a mixture of hunger and hope begging to be answered.
So he did. The only way he could.
Gizmo barked in agreement.
With a laugh, Gwaine surprised Percival with a sudden, hard kiss that left his lips tingling. “Then it sounds like a perfect plan to me.”